MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day. The band Clem Snide first got together in the early 1990s. Then in 2001, they came out with this song. It's called "Moment in the Sun." NBC used it as the theme song for that TV show "Ed," earning the band a bit of fame.
(Soundbite of song "Moment in the Sun")
Mr. EEF BARZELAY: (Singing) When it's my moment in the sun. I'll share my problems with the world...
BRAND: But it wasn't enough to keep the band together. Clem Snide broke up for several years. Now the band is back together. Today, they have a new album out. It's called "Hungry Bird." Earlier, my colleague Alex Cohen spoke with the band's front man, Eef Barzelay, about the album and the careers he had before making music.
ALEX COHEN: When you lived in New York, early on, I understand one of your jobs was as a tour guide, and I've read that that actually helped you get comfortable in front of an audience. Tell me what that job was like and how that got you comfortable performing.
Mr. EEF BARZELAY (Singer, Clem Snide): Basically, my job was to try and get the attention of about 30 to 50 - usually they were foreigners, so they didn't speak English very well. And the way I made my money was through tips, so I had to really hustle, you know, to squeeze like a couple of dollars out of some German couple. And so - and then, I had to split the money with the drivers, who were usually ex-cons or on some sort of work-release program. So there was a lot of pressure, and yes, so I'm not afraid of any crowd at all at this point. I can take on any crowd.
COHEN: And have you - has that come in handy? Has there been a performance where maybe things - conditions weren't quite what you expected and you were able to use some of those same skills?
Mr. BARZELAY: You know, it's like I'm not afraid of any heckling. Bring it on, I say. You know, give me your best shot. My show is sort of like my tour, you know? I'm giving them a tour of my kind of inner self as opposed to a tour of Lower Manhattan.
COHEN: Let's take a listen to one of the songs on your new album. It's called "Beard of Bees."
(Soundbite of song "Beard of Bees")
Mr. BARZELAY: (Singing) Prisoners of ourselves. Desperate little elves. We hide inside the tree. And wear the beard of bees...
COHEN: I've read that one of the ways you approach writing lyrics is by thinking about them in a very visual sense, and I think that phrase and that song title, "Beard of Bees," is a very striking image. Can you talk through how you wrote the lyrics of this particular song?
Mr. BARZELAY: You know, I went to - I tried to be a painter. I went to art school years ago. And I never thought of myself as much of a writer. For me, the words, I think in my mind, it functioned more like trying to make a painting with words. It's a mysterious process for me, and I like at that way. You know, I don't want to try to contain it too much. You know, I try to kind of keep myself open and unfettered and let - and just kind of let it come through me. I find that the more I work on something, the more I really think about it, and you know, it doesn't always necessarily make it better.
(Soundbite of song "Beard of Bees")
Mr. BARZELAY: (Singing) But do you know that when you're here with me. That's the only time that I feel for you...
COHEN: For listeners who may not be familiar with your band, Clem Snide, you started off many years ago as a band, and then the band broke up, and for a long time it was basically just you. Eef Barzelay was Clem Snide. And now you're back together again for this album. How did that come about?
Mr. BARZELAY: The thing about Clem Snide is Clem Snide just sort of exists kind of with or without me, I feel like at this point. It started - just it started very kind of informally just as a group of friends in Boston playing together. And then things started kind of happening for us. You know, we caught a couple of nice breaks there and some money came in, and all of a sudden it became my job. You know, I quit the tour guide gig and I started sort of doing it kind of full time as a job. But it never quite functioned very well, like, as a business. It finally kind of collapsed. I lost everything. I broke up with my manager. Both labels had dissolved, and the booking agents were gone, and the band was no more. So it was, you know, it was really kind of a Book of Job moment for me with it all. I've had, you know, I have really - it's been kind of tough for me these last few years, you know, just with this business and my life and stuff.
So I mean, for me, it's more like personally, I feel I can really appreciate being able to do it now, I think, in a way that before I didn't think much of it or I took it for granted or something. I had kind of been feeling kind of alone, adrift for a long time, so to have the guys back, it just felt great.
COHEN: Let's take a listen to another one of the tracks. This is called "Me No."
(Soundbite of song "Me No")
COHEN: If my ears served me correctly, I believed that's a kazoo in the background. Why that particular instrumental choice?
Mr. BARZELAY: The idea behind the record is it is supposed to be kind of like children's music. For me, like "Hungry Bird," those two words came from watching a children's program with my little son. It's kind of like post-apocalyptic children's music.
COHEN: Do you play the album for him? And how does he feel about it?
Mr. BARZELAY: He hears me playing music, and he hears what I do. He kind of knows - you know, he's almost seven now, so he gets it. But I don't try to, you know, I don't kind of force it on him. I don't ever go, oh, let's listen to daddy's new record now. You know, that's kind of creepy. You know, like I don't want him to be interested in music in a way.
COHEN: Why not?
Mr. BARZELAY: I want him to be a geologist or perhaps an architect. You know, the thing about doing this is like I had spent - this has been tough for me. You know, it's been tough. I have a family. It's hard to do this and kind of - and support a family at the same time. The last few years, it's been very kind of rough and tumble. You know, I would rather that he just be like a geologist, you know, or something. I can come visit him in somewhere in the desert, and we can look at rocks together. That would be nice.
COHEN: You and your band will be heading off to tour with this album soon, and I'm wondering, as you approach this tour, if there's anything in particular you guys are trying to do right this time. You spent some time apart, now you're getting back together. You know, any advice for yourself as you head out on the road?
Mr. BARZELAY: It's a privilege to get to go on tour, and especially on this kind of low-budget Indie rock level, I think, because I've toured on buses. I've toured with Ben Folds a lot in the last couple of years. And I got to tell you, there's something really wonderful about getting together with a couple of dudes in a van and just driving across the United States.
COHEN: Eef Barzelay of the band Clem Snide. Their new album is called "Hungry Bird." Thank you.
Mr. BARZELAY: Oh, you're very welcome. Thank you.
BRAND: I'm Madeleine Brand.
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